Drilling for powder. Enigmatic limestone fragments explained
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Limestone blocks with traces of drilling operations, found at several sites in the Memphite necropolis, are still mysterious artefacts. Experiments made by Jean-Philippe Lauer using a hand-drill with a crescent-shaped flint point proved that the holes in these stones were made by this tool. The purpose of these stones, however, remains unexplained. They have been variously interpreted as devices for levering stones during building operations, traces of apprentices’ work before drilling stone vases, or stones underlying unidentified objects that were being drilled through. At the area of the Polish excavations west of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, numerous drilled limestone fragments were found dispersed around the site of the Old Kingdom necropolis, as well as forming a large deposit in a courtyard of one of the Sixth Dynasty tombs. Many of these pieces bear traces of being drilled on opposite sides, and the holes are spaced irregularly but very close together, covering and piercing virtually the entire stone. The location, number and characteristics of the fragments strongly suggest their purpose. It seems that the aim was to obtain limestone powder in a quick and expedient way. Large amounts of pulverised limestone were used extensively for plastering and whitewashing the tombs and in ritual practises. The end of the Sixth Dynasty was a period of a special need to restore the ritual purity of the offering places by whitewashing.
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